Effective Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance

Published: 13 November 2006

I welcome this opportunity to address you, on behalf of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), in this very important debate.

It is the culmination of our presentations to the General Assembly on issues of vital importance to our worldwide network of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and to their membership in every community, and in every country.

It is common knowledge that the number of disasters resulting from natural hazards is rising along with the number of organizations providing response.

The IFRC has responded to this by extending cooperation with the United Nations system, with IOM and with NGOs. With this in mind, and drawing on our eight decades of experience in disaster management, I will focus on four essential conditions for effective coordination.

Effective coordination requires a thorough understanding by all parties of our specific mandates and capacities

Disaster management is often handled by a wide range of organizations at different levels, each with its own areas of expertise and its own limitations in terms of jurisdiction and mode of operation.

In July of this year, a historic meeting took place in Geneva, bringing together 40 leaders from the three pillars of humanitarian action: the UN, the NGO community and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which includes the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as well as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and our 185 members.

The meeting allowed each of these three pillars to recognize each other’s particularities, and to agree to work together, as equal partners, with complementary roles, rather than developing a system with one agent coordinating the others.

As part of working together as a Global Humanitarian Platform, participants agreed to reconvene annually to further their strategic dialogue on urgent humanitarian issues.

The July meeting also took account of the uniqueness of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, as organizations bridging the local and national levels, thanks to their auxiliary role to Governments and their ability to mobilize volunteers in communities around the world.

This recognition is a strong foundation for us in our own efforts to strengthen cooperation with external partners, while maintaining our independence as defined by our Fundamental Principles.

To this effect, we continue to stress, particularly in discussions on the report of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on System-wide Coherence, that while we work with the UN system, our accountability is to our governance bodies and to the beneficiaries we serve, not to the Emergency Relief Coordinator or to specific Humanitarian Coordinators.

Effective coordination requires a clear definition of responsibilities

The IFRC continues to welcome and support the reform initiatives launched by Jan Egeland, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, and his drive for a more effective and better coordinated humanitarian response.

Thanks to our participation in meetings of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, we have been in a position to assess and contribute to the outcomes of the humanitarian reforms at the global level, along with other leading humanitarian actors.

We are optimistic that the new coordination mechanisms and the clarification of responsibilities will speed and improve emergency response.

It is based on this belief that we offered to convene the cluster on emergency shelter in natural disasters. This special role is clarified by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), signed by the IFRC and UNOCHA in September 2006, and endorsed by our member Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The MOU sets out our willingness to take on this role while remaining loyal to our Fundamental Principles of independence and neutrality by working alongside, and not as part of, the cluster system. Integral to this approach is that we separately seek financial support to cover our shelter responsibilities.

Indeed, we are in the process of finalizing an Appeal of around CHF 12 million, to improve the quality of shelter response over the next two years.

We will use these funds to develop a shelter policy framework, establish a network of stakeholders, strengthen our delivery capacity and that of our member Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and develop an in-country coordination readiness for emergency shelter in specific operations.

Effective coordination requires the participation of national authorities and local communities

It is our experience that to be effective, disaster management must be both nationally and locally owned. We are able to give reality to this approach, for our Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and our over 90 million volunteers who are present in almost every country, in almost every community.

Thanks to this presence, our planning and response is done with the close involvement of communities and national authorities alike.

National Governments are first and foremost responsible for preparing and assisting their people in the face of natural disasters. Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are established in 185 countries and identified by legislation as the auxiliaries to their public authorities.

We thus call on Governments to recognize and more effectively integrate their contributions to disaster management, in national contingency planning processes.

Recognizing the importance of this, at International Conferences of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Governments agreed to form national disaster management committees with their National Society as one of the members.

Local response must also be recognized, for it is the key to the success of nationally-led disaster management efforts. Friends and neighbours are most frequently the first to respond, and those who save most lives.

Our experience at the community level shows that investment in local capacity -- and in well trained volunteers -- pays off. With skills and knowledge, volunteers can communicate disaster preparedness and response measures in the most culturally-appropriate manner.

In this way, they greatly reduce suffering, speed recovery, and facilitate the return to sustainable livelihoods.

Developing, strengthening and mobilising the Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteer network is one of our most valuable contributions to improved humanitarian action, and we are particularly grateful for the support from a number of other organisations, including the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Volunteers, towards creating an enabling environment for volunteers.

Effective coordination requires a holistic approach which integrates preparedness, response, recovery, and risk reduction

Our experience shows that effective disaster management requires a holistic approach that integrates preparedness, response, recovery, and risk reduction.

The importance we attribute to disaster risk reduction is highlighted in our Global Agenda, which calls for increased action with vulnerable communities to reduce disaster risk.

It is also highlighted in our efforts to help States meet the objectives of the Hyogo Framework for Action and through the strengthening of the ISDR System.

Disaster preparedness underpins effective response. Preparedness planning must involve all sectors of society and Government, including the most vulnerable communities living in disaster-prone areas. Together, they are best positioned to place these measures in a coherent plan.

The situation at the national level revealed by major disasters in recent years has shown that there needs to be a wholly new approach to disaster management in many countries and that developed and developing countries alike must invest in disaster management to safeguard and protect development.

While seeking to ensure that every country has the capacity to respond to its own needs, we also work to build States’ legal preparedness for the potential of international humanitarian assistance, through our programme on International Disaster Response Laws, Rules and Principles (IDRL).

IDRL was recently discussed in the Sixth Committee and received positive recognition from many governments. It will be a significant item on the agenda of the November 2007 International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

The IFRC’s own ability to prepare for disasters requires the long-term commitment of donors to predictable funding. Since 1985, our Disaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF) has provided emergency funding to sudden-onset disasters, before a donor appeal could be launched.

The Fund has also enabled us to fund smaller response operations for those disasters that do not make the headlines of the international press.

We have therefore followed closely the development of the CERF, and welcomed its expansion. However, we also take this opportunity to remind governments that the Red Cross Movement does not access CERF funding and in order to support effective and fast humanitarian action in a broader range crisis it is of critical importance to support other facilities, like DREF.

Madam President, I have focused this statement on natural disasters, but would wish to close by observing that the key messages about a holistic approach and community involvement are equally applicable to other humanitarian situations, including pandemic threats and public health challenges, as well as to adequately address threats posed by discrimination, intolerance and community violence.

Communities form the base from which we must all draw our strength and our international actions through new operational alliances and partnerships, must all aim to improve our work with such communities and of supporting them in times of crisis.

We look forward to working with all institutions which share this view.